Special Interests?

No, these are my hobbies.

Let’s face it. If I’d been an NT kiddo, or if I were an NT adult, my hobbies would never have been pathologized as “special interests”. They would have been acknowledged as hobbies, and if it was something I was really into, someone, be it a parent, teacher, scout leader, or otherwise, would have encouraged my interest in that hobby because, maybe, it could become a career interest for me.

I was really interested in cake decorating since elementary school. A high school “guidance” counselor likened it to “underwater basket weaving” — i.e. the most useless of useless interests. Guess what people will pay a LOT of money for? Intricately decorated cakes.

Even if no one could have foreseen the explosion of character themed cakes, what about something as simple and long-lasting as wedding cakes? Many couples spend ages finding just the right cake. Clearly this could have been fostered into a career choice. Who cares if I wasn’t headed towards Ivy League schools like my classmates?

A really good friend of mine LOVES Harry Potter. Has tons of HP merchandise, photos, items, jewelry, books, multiple copies of the movies, has been to the theme parks, has written fan fiction, and so forth.  I love HP too. I have some merchandise, the books, most of the movies (but not all), write fan fiction. We’ve both been to a few HP cons. But my non-autistic friend, who has way more HP stuff, and does way more HP stuff, is “interested in HP”. I’m the one labeled obsessed. I’m the one who people say, “Harry Potter is her special interest”. (Or, one of many.) But…. I do less and I’m the one “obsessed”?  Why isn’t it a special interest for my friend? Because they are not autistic.

I Love my Hobbies. Don't pathologize them into "special" interests!
I Love my Hobbies. Don’t pathologize them into “special” interests!

If your autistic kid really loves something? It’s their hobby. Even if you think it’s ridiculous. (Heck, you probably have hobbies your kid(s), or your siblings, or your parents,think are ridiculous.) Even if you think it’s a “sign of autism”. Don’t ever let them know you think it’s ridiculous. Encourage them. Foster their interest. Find classes (at whatever their level of understanding is) on the topic, and take them to learn more! I see so many parents who are so worried about what their child will do when they’re gone, or no longer able to take care of them.

  1. Autistic kids grow into autistic adults.
  2. We (autistic adults) ARE absolutely like your kids. Remember that NT kids can’t do the same things as NT adults either. Don’t spend so much time fretting, your kid will pick up on it; they’ll feel the stress, even if they don’t realize exactly what’s upsetting you. Remember that it is entirely possible for your autistic kid to develop skills for adulthood.
  3. Presume competence. Always.
  4. Help them get there just like you would your NT kid. (i.e. Stay away from the ABA! Why? Read this and this for starters.)

If they stop liking it down the road? Don’t fuss about time wasted. Are you still interested in every single thing you liked as you grew up? Embrace the change. Don’t pathologize it. Don’t talk down to them. Never call it a “special interest”.

Let us have our hobbies — just like everyone else does.

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  1. Pingback: The Problems with Functioning Labels – Autistic Octopus

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